The Information Services Department (ISD) of the County of San Mateo is in the process of completing a long overdue upgrade of its telephony system, using state-of-the-art and industry-standard Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies and architecture. Given the massive scope of the government agency’s footprint with approximately 30 departments, over 6000 employees, and approximately three dozen sites, this is a significant undertaking and has been one of the top goals of the organization this year.

The new system will replace an existing analog telephone system that has been in place for over 25 years. The existing system has become incredibly cumbersome and expensive to manage, with limited communication features. The County phone system has 17 Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs), aging hardware and software, and no mobility or unified communication features. In addition to the personnel required to manage the system, costs were high largely due to a multiple license structure and associated maintenance costs. This legacy system has a complex and outdated architecture.

This project replaces the legacy system with a countywide standard, high-availability, IP-based telephony system on the Avaya Aura platform. The system will also leverage the County’s investments in Nutanix Storage, VMWare Virtualization, HP Networking gear, and its fiber network (funded by Measure K, a countywide sales tax extension passed by local voters in November 2016). The system will have built-in redundancy, with two system cores located at the county headquarters in Redwood City as well as the San Mateo Medical Center. Each core will be able to failover to the other in the event of an outage or planned maintenance. The two County core phone systems will act as redundant hubs for the County’s 35 remote sites.

Additionally, the VoIP Phone System will utilize advanced services from AT&T and the Avaya Aura communication platform to connect voice traffic between AT&T and the County’s network to the County’s two datacenters (located in Redwood City and San Mateo) using a protocol known as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

There are a number of technical and financial benefits to the new architecture in addition to the improved system uptime and redundancy. For example, end users’ call routing will take place within the County’s phone system instead of routing calls to the AT&T Central Office, adding efficiency and reducing call routing cost. Additionally, the new system will enable centralized system administration and maintenance, significantly reducing the time spent on administration and support as well as minimizing the security risk for telephone fraud.

End-user telephones will be replaced with IP phones, and these along with the overall system changes will enable an abundance of benefits and services for every staff member in the County as well as the residents that we serve. This will create significant flexibility in making additions, moves, or changes for any user. Some of the new features to be available to staff include:

  • Caller ID
  • True mobility capabilities including VPN-less teleworking
  • Unified Inbox (.wav attachment in email)
  • Multiple devices per licensed extension
  • Extension mobility (log in to any county phone to become a specific extension)
  • Directory services, presence, and chat services
  • Teleworking support

End users will be able to have a mobile client that will support a single, integrated communications experience whether they are interacting with the system from a desktop computer or a mobile device.

Our current call centers – one run by the county elections office and another in County headquarters – can be consolidated into one single call center system that will include an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system for callers and allow all agents, regardless of location, to be placed in the same phone queue. The County will also implement enhanced 911 (e911) services in order to provide an accurate location of a caller when a 911 call is initiated.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2018 when the second of the two core locations will come online. After 25 years of relying on an unreliable, outdated, and feature-poor telephony system, the County and its departments are excited by the possibilities to both increase staff and team efficiency and to better engage with residents across the County, all enabled through this modern platform designed to better connect employees with each other and better connect the County government to the residents it serves.